- Greek yogurt brand Ellenos received an $18 million investment from Equilibra Partners Management, the family office of Kind Snacks founder and Executive Chairman Daniel Lubetzky. Equilibra is the Seattle-based company's second private equity partner following a 2018 investment from Monogram Capital Partners.
- Ellenos co-founder Con Apostolopoulos said in a release emailed to Food Dive the brand already has a lot of momentum. Lubetzky's involvement and investment will allow the company to introduce more people to its products and scale the support it has built in the Northwest to further expand across the country, Apostolopoulos said.
- Lubetzky said in the release that his participation stemmed from the brand's sense of community. "Not only is Ellenos obsessive about the craft of yogurt-making and sourcing the highest quality ingredients, but its leadership and team exemplify my belief that how we build a brand is as important as what we are building," he said.
Ellenos has received just two private equity investments since the Apostolopoulos and Klein families launched their first fresh scooped yogurt bar at Seattle's Pike Place Market in 2013, but both were significant. According to Crunchbase, the 2018 investment from Monogram Capital Partners was also $18 million, so the company has brought in at least $36 million to date to expand beyond its current retail presence in 29 states.
During the past seven years, the families have already expanded distribution into natural and specialty grocery stores, where Ellenos has become one of the fastest selling yogurts in the category, according to the release. But the company wants that growth to accelerate.
The brand's popularity likely stems from its manufacturing and marketing approach. Ellenos said it makes its yogurt from fresh milk sourced from one local farmer, plus the company produces its fruit purees in-house from whole food ingredients. Ellenos' formulation comes from a long-standing recipe brought to the U.S. from Greece. It offers a unique lineup of flavors such as Marionberry, Lemon Curd and Passion Fruit, along with seasonal items such as Orange Turmeric and Pumpkin Pie.
Lubetzky's participation in the company is likely to boost its profile. He is well-known for launching the Kind better-for-you snack brand in 2004, which has since grown and expanded into new categories. Its latest additions in frozen, refrigerated, chocolate and snack mix products hit stores this month. As Kind moves forward with its vision of becoming a leader in the space, Lubetzky is expanding his reach.
Equilibra Partners Management is no stranger to the CPG industry. The firm's portfolio companies include Justin's, a nut butter-based snack maker which Hormel acquired for $286 million in 2016; the Krave meat and poultry snacks brand, which has been a part of Hershey since 2015; gimMe Snacks, a maker of organic and non-GMO snacks made from seaweed; and the Chapul brand of products sourced from insect protein, according to its website.
While Lubetzky seems to have solid instincts about where to put his resources — and his industry expertise will no doubt benefit Ellenos' founders and executive team — it's interesting that he would choose to invest in Greek yogurt when the category's growth has slowed in recent years. According to Statista data for 2019, Greek yogurt comprised 52% of the total U.S. yogurt market, but its growth fell 4.4% last year. The increasing variety of flavors and styles have given consumers many options, but the crowded shelves haven't helped the category. After a decade of growth, with Greek yogurt in particular becoming a big trend, overall sales of yogurt fell last year.
However, Ellenos may hope to lean on its reputation for quality ingredients and meticulous production process to get past obstacles. The company's release said the brand's taste and flavor are moving yogurt beyond breakfast occasions and helping invigorate the category. Lubetzky's name and Kind's reputation may also contribute to an upward trajectory since well-known investors can result in more attention and investment for a brand.
With this new capital, Ellenos could eventually become a much larger player in the Greek yogurt space. If it does, that could be where the real challenges begin. The company would then run into some far bigger competitors such as Chobani, Dannon and Yoplait — all better-known brands out to grab as much of the yogurt market as possible.